On August 19 the reggae world lost one of its most prominent figures. Joseph Hill, the leader of the veteran reggae group, Culture unexpectedly passed away from a sudden illness. At the time, the group was in Berlin, Germany at the mid-point of a European tour.
Recently, Hill had received a number of honors – including an induction into the Jamaican Reggae Walk of Fame and a 2005 Independence Award presented by the Prime Minister of Jamaica. This year the group continued to draw rave reviews with typically upbeat performances at the ‘Bob Marley 61st Birthday Celebration’ in Ghana and ‘Reggae Sunsplash 2006’.
Joseph Hill will probably be best remembered for the impact Culture had on the reggae scene when they first appeared in 1976. During this period the group had a string of highly successful singles for producers Joe Gibbs and Sonia Pottinger. Perhaps most well known was the song ‘Two Sevens Clash’ which, due to its infectious rhythm and apocalyptic imagery, left a lasting impression on both Jamaicans and UK punks. The ‘Two Sevens Clash’ album was a landmark in reggae music and was named by Rolling Stone magazine in 2002 as one of the ’50 Coolest Records’ – the only single artist reggae album to make the list. The group also scored a major hit with ‘Stop Fussing and Fighting’, a song that addressed the chaotic political climate of the late 1970s and the attempt on Bob Marley’s life.
Joseph Hill and Culture quickly developed a reputation as a fearsome performing group. The group put in a stunning performance at the ‘One Love Peace Concert’ in 1978, and was soon regularly touring the United States, Europe and Africa. In recent years the group has not displayed any signs of slowing down as they continued to perform at least one hundred concerts each year – with Hill’s wife Pauline performing road manager duties. Fans of the group know that Hill continued to be an electrifying presence on stage – part deejay as he directed his band to reconfigure songs on stage and part teacher as he commented on Jamaican history and current political issues. In his lyrics, Hill often explored how the legacy of slavery continued to have an influence on Jamaican citizens. Yet, what made Culture unique was that Hill always tempered his messages by having a smile on his lips and a dance in his feet. He was never without a good joke at hand.
Growing up in the parish of St. Catherine Jamaica, Joseph Hill has often recounted how he built a homemade drum as a child. He first became involved in the Jamaican music scene as a sound system deejay. By the late 1970s he was performing as a percussionist for the Soul Defenders group who were based out of Linstead. It was with this group (which included such figures as Nana McLean and Vincent Morgan) that Hill made his first recording at Coxsone Dodd’s legendary Studio One – both as a musician and lead singer. Notably, the group backed such Studio One stars as Burning Spear and Dennis Brown.
In the early 70s, Joseph performed with two groups that included future reggae star Glen Washington – C35 Incorporated and Stepping Stone. In 1976, Hill formed the harmony trio Culture with his cousin Albert Walker and Kenneth Dayes. The group immediately struck a chord with audiences by combining sharp social commentary and catchy rhythms. Hill has often noted that the group earned their name Culture. The group gained the reputation as one of the most reliable and enjoyable acts in reggae music. They had a string of memorable albums – most recently the album World Peace for Heartbeat Records in 2003. Significantly, Hill was not content to let Culture be a mere oldies act. In recent years he had recorded duets with Buju Banton and Anthony B., and demonstrated a keen desire to be both faithful to his roots and a contemporary artist. Joseph Hill was remarkable for his ability to simultaneously look backward and forward. He will be greatly missed by both Culture fans and the reggae community.
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